Cronulla centre Jesse Ramien has witnessed first-hand the positive impact of the annual NRL All Stars match and it has even resulted in the proud Indigenous representative learning some Māori words from his daughter.
Ramien, who has been a regular member of the Indigenous team since 2019, feels even more passionate about the All Stars concept because of eight-year-old LaSharn’s Māori heritage and the way that the match has encouraged her to embrace both cultures.
“The game means even more to me because of my daughter. She is half Māori as well [as Indigenous] so I also get to represent her out there and that makes it a little bit more special,” Ramien told NRL.com after being selected for the February 12 clash at CommBank Stadium.
All Stars is coming!
“While I am playing for my culture, I am also paying respect to her culture. Games like All Stars make young Indigenous kids proud of who they are and wanting to learn about their culture.
“When I was young I didn’t know too much about it and I was a bit distant, but being a part of these teams and seeing how much my little girl loves it makes me very proud of what I do and wanting to learn more each year.”
The 24-year-old, who grew up in Coonamble but moved to the Kirinari Indigenous hostel in Newcastle at the age of 12, joined the Knights in 2020 to be nearer to LaSharn.
While he returned to Cronulla last season, it is clear from talking to Ramien just how much she means to him.
LaSharn is also his biggest fan and doesn’t know which team to support in the All Stars match.
“She loves the haka and she tries to do it. She always watches the All Blacks when they do it and especially when I play against the Māori team,” Ramien said.
“She loves the [Indigenous] war cry as well. She is very cultural. She loves hearing about both cultures and is always coming home from school talking about what she has learned about Indigenous culture and about what she has learned from her Nan about Māori culture.
“She learns Māori words here and there off her Nan and she rings and tells me new words that she has learned in Māori. It’s good. I love seeing how excited she is.”
Ramien said he had always dreamed of representing his Indigenous culture in the All Stars clash but didn’t realise until he made his debut in Melbourne in 2019 how much more significance the match held.
Each year since, Ramien - a proud Wiradjuri man - has learned more about his culture and heritage.
“Each time I get picked the feeling doesn’t change. I am still as proud as ever,” he said. “All my family still call me to congratulate me, and I can’t wait to get out there.
“It’s not just the game itself but what we do in the community throughout the week and how we learn about our culture. It’s about being proud of where we are and where we have come from as a culture.
“When I was young I didn’t learn too much, but through the All Stars you get to reconnect with your culture. The new boys who have got picked will experience that this year.
“I think that is why this game is so important because you know how much rugby league means to our people and it gives us a chance to showcase our talent.”
Ramien said the Indigenous team played a different style than the NRL, which is similar to the Koori and Murri knockouts in which so many players got their first taste of senior football.
In his first match, won 34-14 by the Indigenous All Stars, Ramien was thrust into the backrow by coach Laurie Daley and he is prepared to play there again if necessary in the February 12 clash.
“Loz said ‘whenever you are tired just put your hand up, it doesn’t matter what position you play just go out and give it a crack’, and it worked for us,” Ramien said.
“I think it was 10 or 15 minutes into the game and one of the backrowers put his hand up so I was straight in. I hadn’t played much backrow before but I loved it.”
The Maori All Stars won 30-16 in 2020 on the Gold Coast and the teams drew 10-10 last year in Townsville.